status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage
I loathed school, I mean really really loathed it. Even now – seventeen years after my torture schooling ended (bloody hell that makes me feel old :-() – when I find myself on the wrong side of the gates, my heart beats wildly and I struggle to catch my breath until freedom has been safely regained.
Knowing that I would have to spend several days traipsing the hallowed halls, filled me with not a little trepidation.
So as a panic-reducing displacement activity, I attempted to distract myself by studying the idiosyncrasies of Italian school life…
Most noticeable is that Italian children talk A LOT. The noise levels in the classroom, in the dining hall, in the playground, and indeed anywhere where there is more than one bimbo italiano are excruciating.
They also find sitting still for longer than five minutes at a time an almost insurmountable challenge.
And they are extremely physical, laying into one another with jaw-dropping vigour – some of the girls even more aggressively belligerent than the boys.
Commands such as “Be quiet!” “Sit down!” “Listen!” “Stop!” do not even figure on their radar. If you raise your voice, they will simply raise theirs in retaliation and drown you out.
Mentioning this in passing to the bidella (caretakers in Italian schools are usually women, and the backbone of the establishment; guarding the entrance, ringing the bell, ensuring discipline in corridors, dolling out classroom resources and ensuring children leave with the correct adult – as well as taking responsibility for the cleaning), she shook her head and told me that even the parents struggle to gain control over their progeny.
Although I am very aware that children grudgingly attending English summer camp are going to be more recalcitrant in a classroom environment than they would be during the academic year, I think there are other elements equally at play.
The natural exuberance of the Italian character, for one. Whilst attending meetings with the parents prior to the start of camp, I noticed that same propensity for loud insistent chat. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that there was somebody standing in front of them attempting to impart information, or that several of their number were trying to ask questions and actually hear the answers.
Also to be taken into account is the fact that Italy is a very child-orientated country. And as one or at the very most two children are the norm, they become the veritable princes and princesses of their homes. With adoring grandparents and overcompensating working parents lavishing them with unconditional love and indulgence, discipline can take a back seat.
But when all is said and done, they were most of them eminently lovable characters, with a wonderfully robust enthusiasm for life. (Just not quite so much enthusiasm for authority).
Italian school lavatories were another shock to my system, when I trotted off for a common-or-garden wee and ended up having to drop and squat over the cavernous mouth of the communal cesspit. OK, that sounds worse than it actually is, but the ‘hole with footprints’ amenities, also beloved of the French, have the ability to frighten my innards into inactivity for a week.
And to continue with the lavatorial theme… Italian schools often do not put soap or towels in the toilets. So before break times or lunchtimes, the children queue up to have a dollop of soap deposited into an outstretched hand by the teacher, and then trot off to the bathrooms clutching hand towels brought in from home.
Even school children take eating extremely seriously in this country. For break times a merenda is pulled out of the school bag. Often a large bread roll stuffed with salame or prosciutto, it is accompanied by a drink and some crisps or a cake. The school mensa then provides a slap-up, three course lunch. Pasta is the starter, followed by ham and tomatoes or meatballs and carrots or similar, accompanied by a bread roll and with a piece of fruit for pudding. Most of the children also request bis, (I understood ‘piss’ and sent one bemused child off to the bathroom) which essentially means “please sir, can I have some more?”.
As diverting as I found my study of the behaviour of the next generation of italiani, I was highly relieved when after two days I was permitted to make good my escape from scuola.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be the end of it…
This is Status Viatoris, far too kool for skool 😉 (she thinks), in Italy.